Caribbean tourism officials said they were “encouraged” by the record tourism numbers achieved by the Caribbean in 2014, but cautioned that the region still has a ways to go to maintain and grow its market share.
The comments were made by Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, during the question and answer session following the annual State of the Industry news conference streamed live to a global audience on Feb. 10.
“The one word to describe 2014 would be ‘encouraging,’ although we are not where we need to be yet. But I am confident that if we do what we need to do, we can have another encouraging year in 2015,” said Riley.
The Caribbean welcomed a record 26.3 million tourists in 2014, up 5.3% or 1.3 million, over the previous year. Visitors spend was up by 5%, totaling a record US$29.5 billion, or nearly $1.5 billion more than in 2013, reports the CTO.
“Last year, we received more visitors than ever before – recording our fifth straight year of growth as a Region – and visitors spent more money in the Caribbean than they ever did before,” said CTO Chairman Ricard Sealy, also Barbados’s minister of tourism and international transport. “There was strong demand throughout 2014 and I am particularly pleased with our performance during the summer period when our growth rate was almost twice that of the summer of 2013,” he added.
“With a strong year for air travel, a positive performance by the accommodation sector, solid growth in cruise visits and faster-than-expected rise in stay-over arrivals, the Caribbean Tourism Organization is pleased to report that the state of Caribbean tourism is sound,” stated Mr. Riley.
The US – with nearly 13 million visitors –continues to be the region’s primary market, accounting for just under half of the total arrivals. Canada rallied from a flat performance in 2013 to post a 5.7% gain, while Europe topped five million visitors for the first time since 2008, registering a 4.6% increase over 2013.
“There’s no doubt that political and economic conditions, increased airline seat capacity, improved airport facilities, increased room stock – as recognized hotel chains established themselves in our destinations – and new initiatives in the marketplace, all contributed to this success,” Mr. Riley added.
The 5.3% visitors increase was above the global growth rate of 4.7% announced by the UNWTO, and nearly twice the predicted two percent to three percent growth.
According to Griffith, leisure travel is showing steady demand again as the economies in the main markets continue to resurge. This heightened demand significantly benefited the Caribbean and is evident in the record number of visitors, he said.
By sub-regions, the CTO reports that the Dutch Caribbean saw the highest growth, followed by Cancun, Cozumel, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname, and the US Territories. All other sub-groupings recorded increases, except for the French Caribbean, where the performance was flat.
Demand for intra-regional travel remained depressed for most of 2014, with preliminary estimates suggesting that this market segment contracted by over three percent.
Cruise numbers climb
The CTO estimates that cruise passenger arrivals reached 23.9 million in 2014, up 8% over 2013: 21 of the 24 destinations reporting data recorded increases, 14 of which were by double-digits.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines (91.1%), Martinique (71.3%), Belize (42.9%), Trinidad & Tobago (30.1%) and Turks & Caicos (24.8%) were top five performing destinations.
By market share, The Bahamas, Cozumel, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and St. Maarten are the top five destinations.
The Caribbean may see a repositioning away from the region of some of the ships that visited in 2014, to other markets, said Griffith during his presentation.
The CTO is forecasting tourist arrivals to the Caribbean to rise between 4-5% in 2015.